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Royal ructions raise issues close to home

There are few families in the world that have captured the attention of so many for so long. The British monarchy has certainly provided plenty to talk about over the years. It’s been a story with its fair share of highs and lows.

The Oprah Winfrey interview this week of Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, undoubtedly added another colourful chapter to a family drama that has, over the years, played out sometimes as a reality TV show, sometimes as a soap opera, and often as an expression of celebrity culture.

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex talk to Oprah Winfrey.

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex talk to Oprah Winfrey.

When Meghan walked down the aisle at her wedding in May 2018, hand in hand with her father-in-law, Prince Charles, and when Bishop Michael Curry – the first black presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church – gave his sermon about the healing power of love, it seemed Britain’s first family was ready to confront some of its racial and colonial history.

Then, on Meghan and Harry’s account, it all fell apart, demeaningly, over the title, the access to security, and the skin colour of their as-yet-unborn child.

Their claim that a senior member of the royal family expressed concern about how dark their child’s skin would be, and their disquiet over the negative press coverage they say was driven by the new royal’s mixed race, has triggered furious debate in Britain.

While there is claim and counter-claim over the veracity of what was said – the controversy even prompted the Queen to release a statement saying “recollections may differ” – the issues raised cut to the heart of some very important modern debates.

In a nation where the Black Lives Matter movement garnered broad support, these allegations against the royal family and the media are a very direct condemnation of two of the most powerful institutions in the country.

But neither seems to want to engage. The monarchy has chosen to deal with the matter in-house and the Society of Editors, which represents senior newspaper editors across Britain, went public with a statement denying the media industry was bigoted or racist.

The lack of self-awareness by the Society of Editors was made obvious by a stinging statement released by nearly 170 British journalists of colour, who described the Society of Editors’ “knee-jerk” statement as “laughable” and proof the industry was “in denial”.

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